Tag Archives: Rumi


“…instead of resisting emotional pain, we [can] say Yes to our experience. The instant we agree to feel fear or vulnerability, greed or agitation, we are holding our life with an unconditionally friendly heart.” – Tara Brach

Imagine yourself sitting at a holiday table with your nearest and dearest. The table is set with shining glasses and dishes and is heavy with steaming, delicious food. As you get ready to eat, you ask everyone to say what it is that they are grateful for. The first person says:

“I’m grateful for my family, my friends and this food.”

The next person says:

“I’m grateful for making art with my step-daughter and niece. I’m grateful for my husband’s resourcefulness and his creative mind. I’m grateful for my friend Rebecca’s honesty and deep compassion. I’m grateful for smooth, satisfying potatoes, for rich roasted brussels sprouts, and sweet creamy pie.”

How do these two feel different when you hear them?

The first response is an idea, a thought about those people and that nourishment. The second, a more embodied gratitude, is based on noticing details and specifics about the objects of gratitude.

Gratitude. People have expounded upon it for as long as people have expounded. In this space alone, I’ve written about gratitude not once, not twice, but more more more more times than that. The reason everyone else and I write about it so often is that gratitude, if deeply felt, is a powerful transformational force. Gratitude can change everything.

Going back to our holiday table, I see that I can get stuck in the idea of gratitude instead of living the felt experience of gratitude. At its most basic level, gratitude is about appreciating what is happening now…whatever that is. We will have preferences, likes and dislikes, but real gratitude, gratitude that stretches our capacity to feel our lives, makes space for everything that is happening.

Once when I was all twisted up in my feelings about what was happening in my family, a friend said, “How do you know this isn’t exactly what needs to happen?” I sputtered around for a while about how it was obviously not what should happen, and she said, calmly and peacefully, “How do you know?” I had to admit that I didn’t.*

I think of that conversation often when I’m resisting my feelings about whatever is going on. And I recall that conversation when I read these two extraordinarily wise pieces by two teachers far more articulate and insightful than I could ever be. I recommend them highly.

Tara Brach, The Practice of Saying Yes

John Tarrant, How To Welcome the End of The World

Rumi’s classic poem, The Guesthouse, speaks succinctly of this gratitude practice of welcoming everything fully.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Gratitude is being present to whatever feelings are happening and saying yes, welcoming it all. My ability to fully embrace the challenging parts allows me to be fully present with the joyful, pleasurable, loving ones.

“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

*An important post script: I am in no way suggesting that anyone who has suffered trauma or loss should say “yes” to the loss, only to allow for any feelings that arise. As Tara Brach says in the piece I reference above:

I do caution my students, however, that it is not always wise to say Yes to inner experience. If we have been traumatized in the past, old feelings of terror may be triggered. We might not have the balance or resiliency in a particular moment to meet our experience with unconditional friendliness, and our attempts at Yes might actually end up flooding us with fear. It would be better instead to find a way to alleviate the fear, perhaps by seeking comfort with a friend, doing vigorous exercise, or taking prescribed medication. For the time being, saying No to what feels like too much, and Yes to what simply works to keep us balanced, is the most compassionate response we can offer ourselves.

Deepest regret for my inadequate words and any resulting misunderstanding on this point.


row your boat 071716

Open your eyes, for this world is only a dream.
~ Rumi

Dreams are slippery little devils. Sometimes in the groggy early morning, Frank and I tell each other any dreams we had. But I have to be careful. If Frank tells his dream first, even if mine was vivid, it can slip away and dissolve before I can say it. It’s like holding onto a handful of sand in rushing water: it slides away between my fingers, irretrievably lost.

It’s not just night dreams that are slippery. Future dreams are elusive, too. Things I care deeply about like my personal future, or that of my children, or my country might feel clear in sweeping terms. I dream of traveling to Patagonia. I dream that my children will earn advanced degrees. I dream that America be a place where everyone is equal. But without clear steps toward making them happen, dreams tend to hover vaguely in the fuzzy, foggy sometime-future.

Fears for the future can be this way, too. I, like Mark Twain, have “had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” I can put a pile of energy into fretting over troubling upcoming scenarios. Either those things happen and I deal with them or they don’t and they float down the dreamy stream of the next thing I’m worrying on.

The past is weird. I mean, does it really exist? It feels like it exists, but where is it? And if it did exist but doesn’t now, then where did it go?
~ A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozenki

The past is similarly slippery. Think about what you had for breakfast. You may well remember the granola and blueberries, but even recent memories quickly take on a watercolory quality. Memories from childhood or your early adulthood or even last year, slide into that same dreamy zone as if you are remembering the events of someone else’s life.

Brain research suggests that three things impact the memorability of an event. If something is novel, if we play close attention, and it is associated with a strong emotion, the memory will stay vivid. Mostly, though, the past is as easy to pin down as a fresh watermelon seed. Put your thumb on it and it squirts away and disappears under the fridge.

Row, Row, Row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
~ late 19th Century nursery rhyme

If day dreams and night dreams and the past are all amorphous, diaphanous aspects of our consciousness, what about NOW?

In Ruth Ozenki’s A Tale For The Time Being, the young Japanese character, Nao, struggles with the transience of now. To her, it feels like now is as slippery as a fat tuna. She says,

NOW felt like a big fish swallowing a little fish, and I wanted to catch it and make it stop.
…In the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It’s already then.
Then is the opposite of now. So saying now obliterates its meaning, turning it into exactly what it isn’t. (pp 98-99)

I can think of now as a thing to pin down but like a wriggling minnow, it squirms away instantly. If I get too tight with it, now feels like a tiny rowboat that I’m precariously perched on in the stream of time.

Alternatively, I can see now as the biggest space there is, the only space there is. Now is where everything is happening. The most direct entry point to this expansive view of now is through the body and sensation. The body can only be right here and now and we can be there, too, when we practice directing our attention. Whether you are remembering when the mean kids picked on you in 2nd grade or dreaming forward to your future seaside home, your body remains right here and gives you information about how those dreams feel now. Staying in the expansive now is simply a matter of practice.

This is no news flash. The practice of staying present isn’t anything new, but recognizing the dream-like quality of past and future can help me remember to stay anchored in now. Fear, regret and excitement about things that have happened or haven’t happened yet, just make me miss the life I’m offered in the present.

The body lives only in the flow of now. With tight, narrow eyes, I feel myself teetering precariously in a tippy little row boat of now, or I can relax and open and feel it as a big, steady river boat floating merrily along.

Much of life feels like a dream but with practice we can choose to plant our feet on the sturdy deck of now.

intent feeling first 122615
Your heart knows the way.
Run in that direction.
~ Rumi

The very word is grim. It rings of steely determination. Of buttoning up and buckling down.
There is no breath or life or joy in being resolute.
Resolutions grumpify me.

But intention?
That’s the kind of juicy goodness that I can get behind.
Intent is a powerful pursuit any time ~ not just at the end of the year.

But here we are, in the last week of 2015, so why not dig into the vital energy of intention?
(Especially since you’re reading a blog that explores “The Magic of Inquiry & Intent”?)

We are thinky creatures, we humans (especially we American humans), hell bent on our pursuit of happiness. Which is a cool and natural inclination, of course. With our resolutions, though, we go at it backwards. We start with What? instead of Why?

Resolutions are Whats: go to the gym every day, meditate in the morning, cut back on the coffee and the chardonnay, and of course, the ubiquitous, lose ten pounds. All fine things to do but they skip over the real question: Why?

Intentions are Whys. Intentions get at the root of what we want. Intentions are about how we want to feel. Going to the gym and cutting out caffeine and losing those pounds are really just means to an end. They are things that we think will make us feel a certain way.

Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. My suspicion is that one of the reasons people almost never keep their New Year’s Resolutions is that they don’t feel the way they think they will, so they quit.

Why not start with the feeling and build the Whats around that?

Think of something you really want and imagine yourself fully possessing it. What do you see when you have it? What do you hear? What do you smell and taste? Who is with you or are you alone? And most of all, what do you feel? Inside and out? Physical and emotional? What do you feel like when you have this thing you want?

Get really clear on that feeling. Then think of as many activities/situations/people that either already give you that feeling or other ways that you can get it. Focus on the feeling and expand your imagination to include as many ways as you can that you can get that feeling…including perhaps, but not necessarily, the thing you started out wanting.*

And there you have it: a list of Whats for creating a year that feels the way you intend.

Intention is about the feeling. What do you want to feel like in 2016? Let’s start there.


* With gratitude to Jamie Catto for his Practical Magic workshop which reminded me of this approach of feeling first.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy these:
GPS of Intent Pt I
GPS of Intent Pt 2

IMG_20150803_202846869It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home. – Rumi

Sensations are neutral.
Events are neutral.

It’s my mind that makes it good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.
The essence of the practice is to stay with the essence of the sensation.
The direct experience.
Not the story. Not the judgment. Not the drama.

In this very moment: feel the tingling, pulsing, tightness, throbbing. And then drop the words and simply sense.

My mind may keep pulling me away.
Keep coming back.

franti to cville prayer flags 012A week of Akhilanda, the goddess of Never Not Broken. In the playlists from classes, you might notice a number of interesting songs about brokeness, and riding and rolling on the crocodile of fear. I’ve also listed the Rumi poem I used on Monday and Tuesday.

The Michael Franti & Spearhead prayer flags are packaged up and Sara is leaving today to hand-deliver them! I made a little video invitation with images of the flags that you can find here. Please share it, pass it on, pay it forward and maybe the video will reach him as well as the flags!

As always, please let me know how I can help more.

Dance on. Shine on.

Susan sig

This Rumi poem found its way to me this week (thank you, Gina) and it speaks to this croc-riding power of Akhilanda.

by Rumi

Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
if it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
and expanding,
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

Monday, Jul 21, 2014, 1045am ~ Akhilanda Rides Again and Again and Again

Amazing 4:34 One Eskimo
Wounded In All The Right Places [Feat. k.d. lang] 4:33 1 Giant Leap
Never Goin’ Down [Ben Chapman Remix] [1991] 3:51 Adamski
Smokey Quartz 6:59 Shakatura
Broken (New Version) 4:15 Lifehouse
Some Kind Of Ride 3:45 Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Everything Is Broken 4:52 R.L. Burnside
It’s Alright 3:28 Dar Williams
Broken Piano 2:36 Ben Folds
Ghosts in My Machine 3:33 Annie Lennox
Gonna Be [Ben Human Remix] 4:10 Mo’ Horizons
Closer To Fine 4:02 Indigo Girls
Broken 3:56 Jack Johnson
Broken 4:49 Helen Jane Long

Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014, 9am ~ Akhilanda Rides Again and Again and Again

The White Spirit 5:20 Uman
Childhood [2000] 4:44 Dusted
Wounded In All The Right Places [Feat. k.d. lang] 4:33 1 Giant Leap
Broken (New Version) 4:15 Lifehouse
Nostalgia Worship 6:46 Bassnectar
Everything Is Broken 4:52 R.L. Burnside
Ghosts in My Machine 3:33 Annie Lennox
Shakin’ It Up 6:15 Ganga Girl
Broken Piano 2:36 Ben Folds
Raag Trance 5:32 Biddu
Falling Into You 4:19 Céline Dion
Prayer Of St. Francis 2:02 Sarah McLachlan
When It Falls 5:31 Zero 7

Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014, 1055am ~ Akhilanda Rides Again and Again and Again

Destiny 5:38 Zero 7
Wounded In All The Right Places [Feat. k.d. lang] 4:33 1 Giant Leap
Smooth 5:00 Santana
Broken (New Version) 4:15 Lifehouse
Everything Is Broken 4:52 R.L. Burnside
Roll With It 5:18 Steve Winwood
Pick Up The Pieces 4:03 The Average White Band
Lady Marmalade 4:25 Christina Aguilera
Mercy 3:41 Duffy
All We Are 3:37 Matt Nathanson
Fields of Gold 5:00 Eva Cassidy
Broken 4:49 Helen Jane Long

Thursday, Jul 24, 2014, 9am ~ Akhilanda Rides Again and Again and Again

Coming Back To Life 6:19 Pink Floyd
Living In The Moment 3:55 Jason Mraz
Never Know 3:33 Jack Johnson
Drifting Away (Paradiso Mix) 5:07 Faithless
Drive By 3:16 Train
Drop 4:56 Cornelius
Breathe (Extreme Mix) 4:04 Soulfood
Stairway To Heaven 8:03 Led Zeppelin
Why Must I Feel Like This Today? [Feat. Baaba Maal, Michael Franti, Ulali, Radio Active & Krishna Das] 9:28 1 Giant Leap
Everloving 3:26 Moby
Father I Know (Mix 1) 3:08 Jamie Catto


We’re excited to support a weekend of classes and workshops with Nia Trainer, Julie Wylie now scheduled for September and a Nia White Belt early in 2015. Events will include lots of things for everyBODY as well as for belts wanting to reconnect to the principles and practices. More info coming soon.


For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at…

If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going. 

Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. There is one planned in Charlottesville (see above) and lots of other places, too.

Meduim: Watercolor on stonedge natural paper Size: 18" x 13"

It’s been a while since I’ve connected with my favorite Hindu goddess, Akhilanda.

Okay, I admit that she’s my favorite Hindu goddess because she is the only Hindu goddess I know.

Akhilanda.  Her name means Never Not Broken, she rides a spinning crocodile on the river of fear, she is a cut crystal in the sun shedding new light on every reality, and she is powerful beyond measure.  Oh yeah, I could use some of that ju-ju.  It’s time she and I hang out again.

Akhilanda first spun into my field of view in the fall of 2011, when I read this piece by JC Peters in Elephant Journal. Then I wrote about Akhilanda in April 2012, when I was about to begin a four-month sabbatical from teaching Nia, and everything about my practice felt broken. Now, in what I am lovingly calling The Sucky Summer of 2014, I am writing about her again.

Akhilanda’s Never-Not-Broken power lies in the breaking of entrenched patterns and habits and making ourselves new.  Of course, this can be uncomfortable to put it mildly.  The Never-Not-Broken feeling can be one we go to great lengths to avoid.  When difficult circumstances arise, it’s easy to shake my fist at the heavens and curse those damn Hindu goddesses.  The spinning, multi-faceted jewel of Akhilanda, however, offers 10,000 perspectives on every situation.

Akhilanda rides through the body.

As Frank rebuilds his strength after six weeks of virtual immobility, he experiences one of the body’s paradoxes: in order to build strength in the muscles, the very fiber of the muscles must be broken. The process of breaking and healing makes the muscle stronger than it was.

Akhilanda rides through emotions.

To see my tall, strong husband buckled over, in a wheel chair, then slid into the MRI machine felt like more than I could bear.  The temptation to stay in the waiting room, to look away, to keep my emotions at a manageable mid-range was strong.  Akhilanda’s wisdom invites me to jump into the river of emotion and allow myself to feel the depths of sadness, grief, fear.  Like strengthening a muscle, as I stretch my capacity for feeling painful emotions, I also increase how much joy, happiness and love I can let in.

Akhilanda is rides through scary situations, those things we think we cannot do.

I feared Frank aging and being disabled for a thousand reasons not the least of which was that I believed that would be a cross, angry, useless, horrible caregiver.  My prediction was that when in the presence of my beloved in serious pain, I would be pathetic mess.  Not surprisingly, I have feared any circumstance that would reveal this ugly side of myself.

Then, I found myself spun right into the heart of just such a circumstance.  My partner injured and pain with just me to look after him.

Mother Theresa, I am not. Sometimes I am a cross, angry, useless horrible caregiver and a pathetic mess.  But surprisingly, this is the exception.  Mostly, I can stay present and connected and do what needs doing and offer whatever comfort and service I can with love.  In this scary and painful situation that I feared, I discovered something unexpected about me and about our relationship.

All of which begs the question, of course: is it actually a Sucky Summer or just a crocodile-riding one?

Be crumbled.
So wild flowers will come up
Where you are.
You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different. Surrender.

After teaching Nia for 12 years (the anniversary of my very first class is this month), I am taking a break for the summer.  From May 1 to August 31, I will be on sabbatical.

I’ve thought about writing this post for a while now as this decision was made weeks ago.  I have stories and analogies and lots of things to say about how I got here and what I think and feel about it.  And for today, I just want to tell the truth:  I need to release what I know to allow what is next.  I need, as Rumi says, to be crumbled.

I love my job.  I love teaching and moving, I love the people I get to work and play with, I love the music and the magic.  And recently, I realize that I am tired, I am lacking inspiration.  I feel stuck and unsure of what my path is as a teacher and a student.  I feel lost.

When I spoke to other teachers far more experienced and talented than me about these admittedly disconcerting and even frightening feelings, they didn’t scoff or say to just soldier on.  They said, “Of course.  This is what happens.  It’s perfectly normal.”  They said, “Wonderful!  You are on the next stage of the adventure!  I’m so excited for you.”  Hmph.  It sure doesn’t feel normal.  It feels like I’ve lost my bearings and my mojo.  And darn barn, I want my mojo back.

But the other thing these wise and experienced colleagues told me was that there is no magic way to move forward from this place.  There is no telling what it means or how to shift it or what will happen.  They said, “You just have to do whatever you have to do.”  For a while, I had no idea what that was.  None.  I was completely at a loss.

Then my one little word for 2012 came to me:  Release.  Let go and make some space.  Even though that idea was just as scary as losing my mojo, there was part of me that knew absolutely .  This is what I need to do.  Release and make some space.

This month, I will be exploring this process of “sabbatical-ing” in my Nia classes and here in my blog.  This summer, I’ll continue to write and share about the wild flowers that emerge in the space I’m clearing.  I hope you’ll come with me and perhaps find something that you are ready to release.  Something for which you want to make space.

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